TRAVERSE CITY — No July 4 sky would be complete without dazzling sparks of fireworks and the smoky tendrils that linger after the colors fade from a professionally produced show.
But impromptu, backyard fireworks displays can be tiresome and a bit worrisome to many local residents, particularly so since 2012, when the state legislature lifted a ban on more powerful, loud fireworks and put the onus on local municipalities to craft their own restrictions.
"The rationale was, 'We can make money,'" said Joseph Hubbell, Leelanau County prosecutor. "The downside is municipalities, including townships and villages, had fireworks going off all the time. Many people who live up here were quite upset about it."
Those residents asked Hubbell and the county sheriff's department -- and similar agencies and officials across the Grand Traverse region -- to help come up with a enforceable ordinances to manage fireworks. In doing so, Leelanau officials followed in the footsteps of Traverse City and some Grand Traverse County townships whose leaders enacted restrictions soon after the state law was passed.
Sheriff's deputies and others are authorized to enforce the ordinances, depending on the township. Hubbell said he's never had to prosecute anyone for shooting off fireworks, although he has the ability to do so.
Mary Sharry is among Leelanau County residents who supported an ordinance that limits personal fireworks displays to certain times and dates. Today, such restrictions apply throughout the county, other than in Solon and Kasson townships.
“In our little village people were firing off fireworks where we are on very narrow lots. We had fireworks debris landing on our rooftop, our skylight, our deck,” said Sharry, of Empire.
Peter Zirnhelt, a Long Lake Township resident who lives along the Grand Traverse County lake, said he hasn't seen much of a difference since the township enacted its own fireworks ordinance last year.
"There have been times in the past, aerial fireworks were shot off and the debris from them is landing all over in the water and there's noise and that sort of thing," Zirnhelt said. "People aren't paying attention to the ordinance. That's why the word needs to get out it's a violation of the law."
Nearly all the townships in Grand Traverse and Leelanau counties, and some in Benzie County, passed fireworks ordinances that limit individual fireworks use to the day before, of, and after a national holiday. Some ordinances ban them late at night into the early morning and require fireworks users to be sober. Violators could face a fine of up to $500.
Sharry said there’s been a noticeable difference since Empire passed an ordinance in May 2013.
“I think it really has had a positive effect,” Sharry said.
Antrim County officials are working to pull together a draft ordinance to pass out to local townships and villages. The county sheriff, Dan Bean, said he regularly fields complaints from residents.
"It’s the late night and early morning type things at one, two or three in the morning where people don’t have enough common sense to stop shooting them off," Bean said. "We used to be able to write tickets and confiscate them, but now there's nothing as far as enforcement."
Grand Traverse County communities with fireworks ordinances:
East Bay Township
Fife Lake Township
Green Lake Township
Long Lake Township